Switzerland

Switzerland

"Guten tag, bonjour, ciao! Switzerland is a land of many languages, so take your pick on how you'd like to say hello! The Swiss outdoors, with its breath-taking Alps, wildflowers, and crystal-blue lakes, seems to be straight out of a storybook. Hike along the country's snow-peaked mountains in the summer and hear the sound of cowbells lining its walking paths. Remember tales of Heidi and medieval cities? You'll find their settings intact in this beautiful country."

Did you know...

That you’re never more than 10 miles away from a lake in Switzerland?

That 70% of the country is covered by mountains?

That Switzerland is so small that it’s possible to cross the whole country in less than one day?

That milk chocolate was invented in Switzerland by Peter and Henri Nestlé in 1875?

Host Families

Even though Swiss host families are all very different and come in all shapes and sizes, many of them share some traits and customs. Usually, host families in Switzerland are quite small, with mostly no more than three children. During your stay, you can be hosted by any kind of family, including blended families, couples without children and single parents. There’s also a chance that your host parents or grandparents originally come from another country, as 30% of Swiss have a multicultural background. If you’ll be staying in the city, you’ll most likely end up in an apartment, while in the rural areas, most people own their own house. Most of the people are very attached to their regions, and especially to their cities. Because of that, they prefer to commute long distances instead of moving away from their families. 

You’ll discover that Swiss people are very reliable and have a good sense of humor. Next to that, they are curious about the world and often well informed about other cultures.

School

In Switzerland, students are required to go to school until the age of 16. After Primary School, they go to Secondary School, which encompasses grades seven to nine. Additionally, they can choose to attend a Gymnasium/Collège (which is an academic track of three to four years to prepare students for university) or follow an apprenticeship. Usually, YFU students follow the Gymnasium, with a strong academic orientation where students are expected to show a high degree of motivation.

Different tracks are offered by many of the Gymnasien/Collèges, including mathematics, modern languages, and arts or economics. However, you’re normally not free to choose a track yourself, as there may not be a lot of open spots in each of these tracks.

Usually, courses last for 45 minutes and have short breaks in between them. During lunch, students can either go home or stay at school and eat at the cafeteria. Students follow the same class schedule every week, although the schedule looks different for every day of the week.  

"As an exchange student in Switzerland I could say that at the beginning the way of life for me was completely different but after some time getting settled in, you get used to the Swiss way. The first months you probably won’t miss too much from home, because you are busy getting to know new people, places and a different culture."

Free Time

Home to the Swiss Alps, Switzerland offers endless recreational activities. Do you like hiking in the summer and open-air swimming, or would you rather prefer something even more adventurous like mountain biking or in-line skating? Not only summer is a fun season to be in this country, but winters can also be quite amazing. Challenge yourself and try to ice-skate, ski or hike with snowshoes on.

Connecting with nature is as much a part of the Swiss culture as is enjoying music, museums, cinemas and theaters. Hiking, jogging, soccer, skiing, mountaineering, ice hockey, cycling, handicrafts, and gardening are also common activities. The Swiss are generally so fit that even grandmothers are often seen hiking mountain paths!

In Switzerland, one in four people is an active member of a sports club. Usually, teenagers are really active in several sorts of activities. Many of them play sports, play an instrument or volunteer with the Scouts. 

Discover Switzerland

While a lot of your time during your YFU exchange will go to school participation and activities with your host family, you will have plenty of time to discover beautiful and amazing Switzerland with your friends during the weekends and on holidays! Explore the diverse cities, go skiing or snowboarding in the Alps, stroll down ancient markets or enjoy an alp horn concert!

Top 10 things to do

1. Stroll through the old medieval town, called Bern

2. Cross the beautiful Chapel Bridge in Lucerne

3. Go see Europe’s largest waterfalls; the magnificent Rhine Falls

4. Go to the Kambly Factory and eat as much chocolate as you can

5. Get together with friends during Apéros, which are little meetings with friends or colleagues to eat and drink

6. Enjoy Bern’s Onion Market, where the city streets are lined with stalls selling braided onions, seasonal vegetables, ceramics, “Magenbrot” (a type of gingerbread) and various other souvenirs

7. Hike the vine yards of the Lavaux

8. Reach the top of the Matterhorn glacier in Zermatt, where you can either hike or ski

9. Relax at the waterfront of Lake Geneva and enjoy the view of the “jet d’eau”

10. See St. Nicolaus on the 6th December

Food Facts

While the Swiss cuisine is marked by a variety of influences (from Italy, France, Germany etc.), Switzerland was a country of farmers, so the traditional dishes are mostly made of a few simple ingredients, such as cheese and potatoes. 

A typical Swiss breakfast consists of bread, topped with butter and marmalade or honey, and it may also include (sliced) cheese or ham. Especially on weekdays, however many people prefer cereals with milk, with hot chocolate, tea or coffee. Lunch, can be very simple or also quite fancy and range from a sandwich or a birchermüesli to a complete meal. Dinner can be either a full main course or a light meal, such as bread with cheese or dried cured meat, depending on what people had for lunch. There are a lot of places to eat, ranging from fast food, burgers or pizza, to family as well as posh restaurants, where you can order food from a regular menu. However, compared to other European countries, food is relatively expensive in Switzerland. Common dishes may include meat (pork, chicken, veal and beef), vegetables, fish, potatoes (prepared in several ways) and all sorts of pasta. Recently, vegetarian dishes have become more and more popular and most restaurants also offer a vegetarian dish as a main course. Desert may include cheese or cakes and cookies. 

Learn how to make a ham and cheese rosti

Geography

Switzerland is located in Western-Central Europe and shares a border with France to the west, Germany to the north, Italy to the south, and Liechtenstein and Austria to the east. In total, the country covers 41,285 km2. Switzerland is home to a lot of beautiful landscapes, including many mountains and valleys. On hot days it can be very refreshing and relaxing to go swim in lakes and rivers! 

Did you know...

That Switzerland is home to 208 mountains over 3,000 meters high?

That the Gotthard tunnel in Switzerland is the longest one in the world? 

Climate
The country’s climate is temperate, although it can vary a lot between different regions. Summers, are usually warm and humid with regular rainfalls. Winters are normally less humid and the weather in the mountains can be beautiful for weeks, in other areas layers of fog can block the sun for weeks. The föhn, an unusually warm wind, a weather phenomenon, can occur at any time of the year in Switzerland. While the inner alpine valleys are the driest regions of the country, the wettest conditions can be found in the high Alps and in the Ticino canton. The climate in Switzerland varies in different places, as the high mountains change the way of many wind currents. The temperatures range from -15 to 5°C degrees (5°F to 41°F) in winter and 20 to 34°C degrees (68°F to 93°F) in summer.

Nature

Switzerland's natural beauty is probably its most attractive feature. Discover nature’s most captivating facets in Switzerland through its lakes, glaciers, mountains, and fauna and flora. One of the country’s natural wonders is the largest glacier in the Alps and in whole Europe: the Aletsch Glacier. The glacier is more than 23 kilometers long and 120 square kilometers wide. But Switzerland is also home to many lakes that are perfect for a refreshing swim on hot summer days. One of them, the Oeschinensee, is a small lake that’s part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Another magnificent location is the awe-inspiring Rhine Falls, formed more than 14,000 years ago during the last Ice Age.

"It is easy to travel in Switzerland using the train, here public transportation is the most used way of transport, and you will probably use it every day and see how helpful it is. In my experience you go through many experiences that are useful in life, and you learn to appreciate your family, friends, and country."

Language

Schule/école, freunde/amis, familie/famille, bruder/frère, schwester/sœur, austausch/échange...do you know what these words mean?

Switzerland has four official languages, German, French, Italian and Romansh. Multilingualism is an integral part of Switzerland's national identity. German is the main language of around 64.9% of the population. However, the language spoken in informal situations is not standard German but rather a variety of Alemmanic dialects that are collectively known as “Schweizerdeutsch” (Swiss German). In the German speaking regions, people are very proud of their dialects and often don’t like to speak Standard German. The dialect spoken by a person is part of their identity connecting them to their city or region. Of course, this also means that you have to put more effort in learning and understanding the language.

The language situation in Romandie, the French speaking part of the country, is less complicated than that in the German speaking part. While every region has its own idiosyncrasies and accents, the French that is spoken and written in Switzerland is largely the same as standard French. Interestingly, the differences between Romandie and Deutschschweiz are not limited to the languages that are spoken. There are also noticeable cultural differences.

If you would like to spend an exchange year in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, you do not necessarily need any prior knowledge of the language.

Students who haven’t had a minimum of two years of formal language training as well as students whose language competence has been found to be lower than CEFR level A2, simply need to attend an intensive German course upon their arrival. Tuition fees for the course have to be covered by the attending students. 

If you would like to spend your exchange year in the French-speaking part, you need to have had at least two years of formal language training.

Language Learning Tools

Movies and Music

The current crop of musicians and groups which have enjoyed considerable success both in Switzerland and elsewhere include Stephan Eicher, Gotthard, Krokus, Michael von der Heide, Andreas Vollenweider, DJ Bobo, DJ Antoine, Erik Truffaz, Stress, Heidi Happy, Sophie Hunger, and Bastian Baker.

Also there are quite a lot of famous musicians who live(d) in Switzerland for example Charlie Chaplin, Freddy Mercury, Phil Collins and Tina Turner.

Several Swiss musicians are currently known around the world and are enjoying commercial success. Thanks to artists such as Remady, Yves Larock, DJ Antoine or Mike Candys, Helvetic electronic music, especially house and dance music, enjoys widespread popularity. Popular Swiss artists today include The Dandies, Eluveitie, Paysage D’Hiver and Metallspürhunde.

Movies

The Swiss film industry is primarily known for its documentaries. However, in the last few years a number of feature films have enjoyed considerable success, such as “Schweizermacher” “The Goalie bin ig” and “Rock” and in French “Bienvenue en Suisse” and “La Grande peur dans la montagne“. Check out the best rated Swiss movies here: http://www.imdb.com/country/ch

Events

Switzerland offers one of the best snow music festivals in Europe! After a day of skiing and snowboarding, people get together during the Caprices Festival in Crans-Montana to party and enjoy some of the most breath-taking views you could ever imagine. With several big names in techno and house music, this festival brings the classic après-ski to another level. Another awesome festival is Fête de la musique in Geneva. Every summer, this festival takes over the streets and musicians from all over the world perform on over 50 podiums. The music is very diverse, ranging from electro jazz and classical orchestras, to pop, rock, and world music.

However, if you prefer movies over music, there are also plenty of film festivals to attend in Switzerland. The films shown in Solothurner Filmtage, for example, are made by people from all over the world and most of them are not shown in mainstream movie theaters. The pearls of this festival are the low budget movies that normally wouldn’t have a chance of being featured in cinemas. 

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